A few firsts for me this week including the mighty Renault Kangoo which has a lot in common with the Fiat Doblo – a van with a silly name but a surprisingly comfortable and relaxed long distance companion. By the way, in case you are wondering about the photos, you are right – they have nothing to do with the contents of this post. Fine cars as they are, do you really need to see pictures of modern day Kangoos, Sciroccos, Polos or Golfs (even a Golf R)? No. Better to look at the two beauties my son and I spotted at another classic car gathering at the Great Central Railway a couple of weeks ago. So, back to this past week:-
Monday: Renault Kangoo Maxi 1.5TD (110hp) van, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire to Clevedon, Avon
Wednesday: Volkswagen Scirocco R-Line 2.0TDI (184hp) DSG, VW Scirocco R-Line 2.0TDI (150hp) DSG (2015), VW Golf GTD (2015), VW Scirocco 2.0TDI (140hp) (2011), all in and around Leicester; VW Golf R (2015), Leicester to Wymondham, Leicestershire
Thursday: Volkswagen Scirocco R-Line 2.0TDI (184hp) DSG, VW Golf S 1.2TSI (85hp) (2015), VW Golf 1.6TDI, VW Polo 1.2TSI DSG (90hp) all in and around Leicester.
Volkswagen Sciroccos are like buses. No, that’s not an derogatory comment on the way they drive, but I had never driven a Scirocco before and then three came along at once on Wednesday! I spent two days this week working for the local Volkswagen dealer, collecting and delivering cars for the Service Department. It was pure coincidence that everything I drove on Wednesday happened to be a VW with sporting pretensions.
I wasn’t 100% sure about the looks of the current Scirocco when it was first launched (which seems a very long time ago). However, it has grown on me and now I think it’s a good looking car although a little oddly proportioned from some angles. From the brief time I spent in each, it was difficult to get a full impression of what they are like to drive but they seemed grippy with accurate steering and firm ride. I liked the interior which was typical Volkswagen (i.e. smart and an above average feel in the quality stakes) plus a few sporty accoutrements. These included three extra instruments on top of the dashboard – oil pressure, turbo boost and a stopwatch. The latter would be very useful if you want to boil an egg on the go. I believe this is a throwback to the original Mk 1 Scirocco but I wonder how many Scirocco owners have ever used it. All three Sciroccos were diesels and I am sure the 184hp version goes very quickly when you want it to. Very much like a Golf GTD which I also drove on Wednesday and have also commented on in a previous post. However, these Scirocco diesels did seem a little bit old school in terms of noise. I’m sure the same engines are a bit quieter in other VW applications.
The pick of all these sporty VWs (and the only petrol powered one) was of course the Golf R. Wow! A searingly hot hatch: two litre turbo power, 296hp, four wheel drive and 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds – this DSG (automatic) version being a fraction of a blink of an eye quicker than the manual. A facelifted Mk 7 Golf (a sort of Mk 7.5) was introduced earlier this year and the R is now more powerful (306hp) and quicker still. VW didn’t really need to bother because the 2015 Mk7 I drove was brilliant. Unlike the Sciroccos and Golf GTD, I tragically had to drive the R for about 25 miles out into the Leicestershire countryside. It was fun. Naturally, it felt very quick and, with loads of grip, it was flat and unfussed going through the bends. Could be addictive. In this day and age of seven, eight and even nine speed automatic boxes, the Mk 7 Golf R “only” has six. This was a good thing in my view because driving it manually via the steering wheel mounted flappy paddles (which is far more interesting than letting the car do its own thing) was much more manageable and instinctive if you are used to driving five or six speed manuals. Inside, the Golf R has to make do without the Scirocco’s three extra sporting dials but surprisingly that does not hinder progress. It does however have racy luminous blue needles for the two main dials found in most cars, so that’s obviously the real secret to the R’s extra pace. The seats were great too.
Finally, an honourable mention in despatches for the 1.2TSI (turbo) Polo, again another DSG (automatic) and another first for me. What a great way to get around the city – like a little go kart. Smooth, refined and it felt really quite punchy (0-60mph in 10.8 isn’t bad for a humble supermini). Would liked to have tried this Polo out on the open road. This “old” 1.2 petrol engine is now sold alongside a new 1.0 turbo in the Polo, which is more powerful, quicker and more economical than the 1.2. What modern day wonders these tiny one litre engines with spinny things are.
Last weekend, we went camping in the Cotswolds – under canvas as we don’t have a camper van or an exploding toilet these days. We were joined by some very old friends (meaning we have known them a very long time, not that they are totally ancient) and a very cute four-legged mop with a death wish. Chewing through a mains hook-up cable is a potentially quick route to a shocking end but you will be pleased to know that Harley the Cockapoo’s misdemeanour was spotted in the nick of time.
The venue for the weekend was a field behind the Greedy Goose pub in Oxfordshire, about five miles from Moreton-in-Marsh. First impressions were not great. A row of dilapidated, algae-covered caravans down one edge of the field, no hot water in the toilets (which were the pub’s main loos) and only two showers which opened directly onto the pub’s car park (but just so there’s no misunderstanding, there was a door to each shower). Add to that, the sky was a threatening shade of battleship and we just managed to get our tent up before a depressing drizzle set in. Our two lots of friends were not so lucky and there was no let up in the drizzle for most of the evening.
So, all a bit of a disaster then? No, not a bit of it – we had a brilliant time with loads of laughs. We spent the drizzly Friday evening in the pub (which we had planned to do anyway) having a very good meal and after that, the weather got better and better. Despite the limited facilities, the campsite was absolutely fine; we had a good space to put our three tents in a circletriangle cosy sort of three sided square with one of the campsite’s wooden picnic tables in the middle. Plus it was dirt cheap – £10 a night for the two of us with electricity (despite Harley’s best efforts)! None of us bothered having a shower, instead we relied on the smoke from Saturday evening’s barbecue to mask anything unpleasant and as we all smelt the same anyway, who cares? In any event, there was actually only one operational shower because nobody wanted to share the other one with the resident family of house martins nesting in one corner of the ceiling. I knew they were house martins by their distinctive song which you could hear at precisely 6pm as you walked to the pub: “##It’s ha-ppy hour again … I think I might be happy if I wasn’t out with them ….##”. *
The lesson here is that company is far more important than your surroundings. We had just as much fun on this basic campsite as we would have done on a five-star site or even in a five-star hotel (where making your own bacon and fried egg sandwiches and dribbling yolk down the inside of your sleeve may be frowned upon). In the evenings, as well as catching up on news and sharing remarkable facts about Sandi Toksvig and flatulence, a few silly games were played, one of which involved coming up with random/bizarre/silly newspaper headlines** (“red warts” and “furry toads” may have cropped up here). Also, being in the countryside away from any light pollution, we were able to spot shooting stars as the Perseid meteor shower peaked on Saturday night.
During the day on Saturday, we visited Batsford Aboretum and Chastleton House and Garden, both within a short drive of the campsite. Batsford Arboretum is a sloping expanse covered in trees (obviously!) and paths with some ornamental landscaping thrown in. It is part of a large estate (the long straight drive up to the Arboretum is a clue) and there is still a grand old house there but this is private. The Arboretum is a pleasant and calm place to wander and there is a large garden centre and café/restaurant too.
Chastleton House (National Trust) is fascinating. A Jacobean country house in typical honey-coloured Cotswold stone, complete with church and gardens, nestling in a secluded spot in the Oxfordshire countryside. The house was built between 1607 and 1612 by a wealthy wool merchant. The family became increasingly impoverished over the centuries so it has remained largely unchanged, unlike a lot of stately homes which were often enlarged and improved with the times. When the National Trust took it over, they decided to preserve it (warts, cracks, cobwebs and all) rather than restore it. Charming, picturesque and, inside, it has a real sense of age. You can even enjoy tea and cake in the graveyard; we did.
* I actually have no idea whether or not they were house martins but it’s entirely plausible. Anyway, there was never a pop group called The Swallows or The Swifts who had a hit called “Happy Hour”, so house martins it is.
** The Headline Game. Give everyone a pen and a bit of paper, come up with six letters at random (we used a random letter sequence generator on a smart phone) and then everyone has to think of a six word newspaper headline using the random six letters as the first letter of each word (and in the order the six letters were chosen). Obviously, the sillier the headline the better (especially after a glass of wine) unless you consider yourself a mature person in which case this game (and probably a large portion of my blog) may not be for you. So, the letters SFTGBS are chosen: “Scottish Fish Take Balmoral Guards By Surprise” or maybe BPBHFE: “Brighton Promoted, Blackpool Have Flasher Ejected”. With reference to the title of this post, you have probably guessed that one six letter combination we had was RWKEFT. When everyone has come up with a headline, you read them out in turn, hopefully have a good giggle and then choose another six letter combination and do it all over again. For each round, you can even choose categories, e.g. celebrities, current affairs, sport, animals. Have fun.
Tuesday: Volkswagen Up! Beats (60hp), Volkswagen Polo 1.2 SE (2009), Volkswagen Polo Match 1.2TSI (90hp), Volkswagen Passat 1.6TD Estate (2013), all in and around Leicestershire
The Beats special edition Up! was a funky little thing, obviously aimed at the youff market. A 300 watt sound system (which I actually never turned on), Beats logos dotted around and a dashboard which …. well, you decide (see photo below). It was certainly a happy little car. It’s quite refined for a small car and handles well but the 60 horsepower is very weedy and struggled up relatively modest hills. It also seemed to have a disappointing amount of legroom for anyone sitting in the back. We have a Kia Picanto (the outgoing model) and it never ceases to amaze me how much rear legroom there is. The Picanto is peppier too but has a smaller boot than the Up! and is less refined (although the new Picanto’s boot now trumps the Up!’s).
As promised by the title of this post, here’s something to do on a rainy day: go for a walk. I promise you won’t dissolve, it’s good for you and the harder it rains, the more alive you feel. To coin a cliché, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes and most of us can put our hands on wet weather clothing and/or an umbrella. Whilst the rest of Europe has been roasting in extremely high (and even dangerous) temperatures, the weather in the UK is a bit pants at the moment but a bit of rain is no excuse – it’s still warm …. ish. So I did my fair share of wet perambulating over the last week and I am still here to tell the tale.
If you can’t bring yourself to step outside on a rainy day, then stay inside and do something useful like save humanity. We’ve just discovered the board game, Pandemic. It’s an addictive strategy game with an interesting feature – there is no winner amongst the 2 to 4 players. Instead all the players have to work together to cure diseases that are threatening humankind, so you are collectively trying to beat the game. If that apparent lack of competitiveness sounds dull, believe me it’s not! It gets quite tense as cities around the world are infected and the rate of infection accelerates; if there are too many outbreaks the players lose and humanity is doomed.
The Scene: St. Pharts Home for Old Aviators somewhere in Middle England. Squadron Leader James “Biggles” Bigglesworth (retired) tiptoes discretely into the common room to be greeted by his old pal and fellow resident, Ginger Hebblethwaite.
Ginger: I say Biggles where have you been all afternoon?
Biggles: Shh! Been To Bedfordshire. Might be knocking on a bit Ginger but not lost the spirit of adventure! Sneaked out when Matron wasn’t looking. Ginger (puzzled): Wooden stairs to Bedfordshire? Bit sleepy, eh? Not surprised after that double helping of spotted dick for lunch.
Biggles: No, no. Bedfordshire. The fine county of. Went to a little town called Biggleswade. Ginger: By jove Biggles, old boy – they’ve named a town after you? How spiffing!
Biggles: Seems so, Ginger. Mind you, I have to say it’s quite an unremarkable place – I don’t think anything of note has happened there since the 22nd of July 1661.
Ginger: And what was that?
Biggles: That old cove Samuel Pepys stopped in the town to buy a pair of warm woollen stockings!
Ginger: Ha ha – I’ll wager the good burghers of Biggleswade couldn’t contain their excitement. But my dear old thing, how on earth did you know that?
Biggles: This is the modern world Ginger – read it on the interweb. That encyclopedia thing.
Ginger: Wiki …. wotsit, er, Wikileaks?
Biggles: Well yes, it does as it happens. One of the joys of growing old but stop changing the subject.
Ginger (puzzled again): So all that’s really happened in Biggleswade in the last three hundred and fifty years is that some fellow who kept a diary bought a pair of woollen stockings there? In July. Strange. Global warmage must be worse than I thought – wouldn’t need woollies in July nowadays. (Long pause)
Biggles: Ooh, there was something else – the Shuttleworth Collection.
Ginger: A shuttleworth collection, how splendid! I used to love a game of the old shuttleworth. Any racquet sport and I was your man.
Biggles: Ginger, old chap – “Shuttleworth” not shuttlecock. Fabulous place, old grass airstrip and sheds full of old planes and cars. All our era, Ginger, and earlier. An old Blériot monoplane, would you believe – the oldest kite in the world still flying. Lots of planes from the first dust up with Jerry – they’ve even got a Sopwith Camel, and a Sopwith Pup and a Triplane! And stuff from the second show too, like Hurricanes and a Lizzie. Remember the time we flew Lysanders into France right under Jerry’s nose?
Ginger: I’ll say! What a close scrape that was. But …. you say they’ve got a Sopwith Camel?? Well, cover me in tinsel and call me Christmas, the old Camel, eh? Now that was a tiptop old crate, wasn’t it Biggles?
Biggles: Certainly was, old boy. Wouldn’t old Algernon have loved to see that?
Ginger: Ah yes. Dear old Algy. Always regretted that last adventure in Canada. Bit past it, weren’t we?
Biggles: Possibly. Poor old Algy (sigh) …….. (he continues sadly) Algy met a bear.
Ginger : The bear met Algy.
Biggles: The bear had a bulge.
Ginger: The bulge was Algy.
(Pause while they reflect on their dear old chum, Algernon Montgomery Lacey). Eventually:
Biggles: He never was the same after he pancaked in that Spit and cracked his head on his joystick.
Ginger: He thought the bear was his old nanny.
Biggles: Monstrous hairy old beast.
Ginger: The bear was quite frightening too………….
Biggles: Anyway, fancy a game of croquet before tea?
Ginger: Why not? You lead the way, old thing.
Biggles: Righty-ho. Chocks away!
Exit. Not pursued by a bear.
The above may need some explanation for some! Biggles is a fictional character – an English pilot and adventurer created by author Captain W.E. Johns for young readers. Biggles, along with his pals Ginger and Algy, was the subject of about 90 books written by Johns between 1932 and 1968. Biggles never seemed to grow old as he fought in World War I, World War II and then had a career as a flying detective in the post-war years! He must have eaten a lot of turmeric but strangely, Johns never mentioned this in the books.
The Shuttleworth Collection is very real and, as Biggles says, it’s a fabulous place. Based at the Old Warden aerodrome just outside Biggleswade, the collection comprises about 60 old aircraft, 40 or so cars (many seriously old), motorcycles and agricultural machinery. There is also an ornamental garden – the Swiss Garden – and a grand old house. Most of the exhibits work as they are supposed to – flying or driving or tractoring or thrashing or whatever. Special events like airshows are frequent. I have been several times over the years including a memorable visit for a twilight airshow. This was held in the evening when the air was at its stillest so they were able to fly (or attempt to fly) the oldest and most frail exhibits – including the old Blériot, just like the one in which Monsieur Blériot made the first flight across the English Channel in 1909. On a warm summer’s evening with everyone sitting around on picnic rugs and Daisy the cow interrupting proceedings occasionally by wandering onto the grass airstrip, it was wonderfully atmospheric.
Samuel Pepys (pronounced “peeps”) is also real and is famous for the diary in which he recorded his daily activities between 1660 and 1669. The diary is an important historical record of life in England during that period – for example, it includes an eyewitness account of the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of London and also an insight into where the best stockings could be purchased in the 1660s.
I delivered a van to Biggleswade on Monday which prompted this post but, unfortunately, I had no time to visit the Shuttleworth Collection nor did I buy any stockings (funny that). I’m afraid I have to report that the town is as unexciting as Biggles suggests.
Back to work this week after our hols in Cornwall. All decent vehicles but nothing out of the ordinary and no particularly interesting destinations, although the new town of Telford is just a few miles north of Ironbridge Gorge which only happens to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution (and an interesting place to visit if you have the chance).
Tuesday: Audi A3 1.8T Sport (2014) & Audi A6 S-Line 2.0TD manual (2013), both Rugby to Telford, Shropshire
Wednesday: Volvo XC60 SE Lux Nav D5 (2.4D) auto (2016), London Heathrow to Leicester
Friday: Ford Transit Custom, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire to Reading, Berkshire
Now I did go somewhere interesting last Sunday – one that played a small but important rôle in World War II. Beaumanor Hall in the Charnwood Forest area of Leicestershire is a stately home built in the 1840s, although manor houses have been present on the site since the first was built in 1330. Beaumanor Hall was requisitioned by the military in 1939 and it became a “Y station”, intercepting enemy radio traffic and passing the signals to the more well-known Station X at Bletchley Park for decrypting.
If memory serves me, Beaumanor Hall also featured in Robert Harris’s novel, Enigma, a fictional thriller set against the backdrop of Bletchley Park’s efforts to break the Germany’s Enigma code. It is widely rumoured (in real life) that the Beaumanor Hall listening post had intercepted intelligence about the Katyn massacre very early on in the war (in April and May 1940, the Soviets massacred about 22,000 captured Polish officers and other citizens in the Katyn Forest in Russia). The information allegedly received by Beaumanor Hall and the need to hush it up in deference to Britain’s Soviet allies provided a sinister sub-plot in Enigma and the subsequent film of the same name. Incidentally, the producer of the film was Mick Jagger who happened to own an Enigma machine which was used as a prop in the film.
The reason for visiting Beaumanor Hall was (surprise!) a classic car show. The hall is not normally open to the public but it does hold various events throughout the year. Here are a few photos:-
Back in May, I eulogised about the VW Transporter Kombi and finished with the question, is the VW Transporter Kombi the ultimate family transport? Well, in my experience…… not quite. You see from 1999 to 2004, we owned a VW camper van – a 1995 Autosleeper Trident based on a VW Transporter T4 (the current generation Transporter is the T6). This is another reason why I have come to enjoy driving vans so much. It has been interesting comparing modern T6s (of which I have now driven a few) and our old T4. With its non-turbo, 2.4 litre five cylinder diesel engine and a mighty 78hp, our old van was on the slow side and noise levels meant that travelling at anything over 60mph (100kph) was a trial. The modern VW Transporter is a dream by comparison. The purchase of our camper van was the fulfilment of an ambition fuelled by my fond childhood memories of French holidays in the van my parents bought in the late 1960’s. A classic 1967 VW Type 2 split screen camper with green lower bodywork and off-white above. What would that be worth today??! It was a Canterbury-Pitt conversion for those interested.
When we first bought our Autosleeper Trident in October 1999, our two kids were about 3 years old and 18 months old and we soon found out that, for a family with young children, the benefits of a camper van were many. A VW Transporter is not much bigger than a large MPV so it can be used as a normal car every day of the week. However, on days out a camper van becomes a civilised changing room (for nappies as well as clothes!), wash room, café, toilet and of course, bedroom. The versatility doesn’t end there. When you can no longer avoid doing those jobs around the house and garden, there is plenty of space for junk to go to the tip or for purchases from the DIY store or, worse still, IKEA.
Over the four summers we had it, our van took us on a tour around Devon and Cornwall, to the French Alps, to Cornwall again(!) and then to the mountains of northern Spain (via the two-night ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Bilbao) and back through the length of France. In addition, there were numerous cheap weekends away including our very first night camping in the van in … Sandringham (so, it was a truly nostalgic return in June this year). The beauty of a camper van holiday is that you can do as much or as little preparation and research as you like before you go. For a foreign holiday, just book the ferry or simply turn up at the Channel Tunnel and off you go (but don’t forget travel and breakdown insurance and any necessary legal requirements for motoring abroad!). If you wish, you can make up or change your itinerary as you go. If you come across a place you really like – well, just stay a few nights and enjoy it. Freedom is the word that springs to mind.
The disadvantages of a camper van are very few but we (or rather my wife) did discover one hazard of having a mobile toilet. If anyone is familiar with Porta-Potties they will know that the waste is contained in a sealed (and airtight) tank which forms the bottom half of the toilet. On our summer holiday in the French Alps, we had descended from a lofty summit when one child decided they needed to avail themselves of our portable convenience quite urgently. No problem. We just pulled over in a lay-by and my wife sat small child on the Porta-Potti. Once finished, the product of this call of nature sat on the sliding lid of the waste tank. In accordance with Porta-Potti protocol, my wife started to open this lid …. suddenly there was a loud “PHHSHHHT” from the toilet followed by a loud “URRGH!” from my wife…… Now, I know I really should not have laughed (nor indeed failed to have recovered from my helpless convulsions in order to help clear up the mess) but only the most serious-minded, cheerless soul would deny that an exploding toilet and a faceful of wee (provided it’s someone else’s face) is pure comedy gold. Of course, we had used the Porta-Potti (and closed the airtight waste tank) some time earlier at the top of the mountain where the air pressure is lower. Now, down in the valley, where the air pressure was greater …. well, let’s not get too scientific.
In addition to all the pleasure (and laughs) we got from our van, there was also another benefit. In terms of overall cost, it was the cheapest vehicle we have ever owned. Insurance was cheap (through specialist motor caravan insurers), fuel consumption was comparable to a petrol-engined family car at the time and servicing costs were similar to a car. And the biggest cost of owning a motor vehicle – depreciation – was spectacularly good because these vehicles hold their value really well (especially the combination of a VW base vehicle and conversion by a top converter such as Autosleeper). Sadly, our van was stolen off our driveway and never recovered but the payout we received from the insurance company meant that depreciation cost us less then £500 a year. Even in 2004, that was not bad for all that fun and cheap holidays!
Happily, that was not the end of our camper van ownership. The VW was replaced by a Ford Transit-based camper which we managed to keep hold of for eight years.
When you are on holiday in a place like Cornwall you are probably spending a lot of time outdoors, possibly being a bit energetic – walking, swimming, surfing, bodyboarding, kayaking, following wife and daughter on Poldark hunt etc. So hearty sustenance is important. Happily, there is no problem getting your five-a-day in Cornwall. Here’s how:-
1. CORNISH PASTY. The jewel in the Cornish culinary crown. For those not in the know, a Cornish pasty is basically a beef steak and potato pie (with onions, swede and seasoning thrown in) but made in a distinctive semi-circular shape with the pastry forming a thick crust round the curved edge of the pasty. The pasty was the traditional lunch of the Cornish tin miner and legend has it that the distinctive thick crust was used for holding by the miners’ dirty fingers, then discarded after the rest of the pasty had been devoured. Unlike tin mining (now extinct), pasty shops are everywhere in Cornwall selling both the traditional steak and more exotic varieties (often with a curry or vegetarian vibe). And good value, they are too – about £4 for a large, hot pasty that will provide enough fuel for an afternoon’s bodyboarding.
2. CREAM TEA.Tea rooms and cafés abound in Cornwall and a real afternoon treat is the classic cream tea. A pot of tea, a scone or two (actually it has to be two), strawberry jam and lashings of cool, thick, yellow clotted cream. Ideally, there should be more clotted cream than appears necessary. Having cut your two scones in half, the challenge then is to ladle every last ounce of your excessive amount of clotted cream on to your four halves of scone (before adding some jam). I never have a problem rising to that challenge. The worst crime that can be committed by a tea room/café is not giving you enough clotted cream to provide a 13.5 Tog rated cover for each bit of scone. Laws should be enacted to ensure this can never happen because it can ruin the rest of your day. A real bonus is to arrive at your tea room or café of choice while the scones are fresh out of the oven and still warm (happily this happened to us at the National Trust café at Bedruthan Steps).
3. ICE CREAM. Dairy is big in Cornwall, hence the clotted cream and more local ice cream makers than you can shake a flake at. The likes of Roskilly’s, Kelly’s, Callestick Farm and Moomaid trip off the tongue …. not to mention the lips and chin on particularly warm days. In the interests of research(!), we visited Roskilly’s farm near St. Keverne on the Lizard peninsula. A homely, tumbledown affair down a typically narrow Cornish country lane, we had a small lunch in the café and no prizes for guessing what we had for dessert. But … have you ever been to a restaurant and instantly regretted your choice of dish? I happen to like coconut ice cream but the only type they had was non-dairy but I still went for it. Why, oh, why did I do that?? That’s ice something but not ice cream. I was on a farm where you can even see the cows being milked and I chose a non-dairy product. Happily, we all had three scoops (and three different flavours), so the excellent, full-fat white chocolate and raspberry ripple and black currant cheesecake saved the day. To be fair, knowing I was having two dollops of proper ice cream did have something to do with the non-dairy choice!
4. FISH. Cornwall is a long thin county surrounded by sea (except for the frontier with Devon and the rest of the UK). Even in the middle of the county you are never far from the sea and an achingly quaint fishing village or harbour, so it’s a great place for traditional fish and chips. A seaside holiday for us typically includes the take-away version of this British classic, usually eaten out of the paper, sitting on a harbour wall or sea front – the romantic notion of fish and chips (let’s ignore fighting off hungry seagulls and tackling a large piece of battered fish with a totally inadequate little wooden fork thing with only two prongs). However on this holiday (we got back home two days ago by the way), it was raining at the time we decided that fish and chips was the thing we needed most in the whole wide world. Fortunately, The Beach Restaurant in St. Ives came to the rescue. The counter on the ground floor selling fresh fish was a good omen and upstairs we sat inside but with an excellent view over the harbour. The haddock and chips did not disappoint – thick, firm fish, perfect crispy batter and decent chips (to be honest, battered fish is at its crispiest best when eaten straight away rather than after having been wrapped in paper for a take-away). Traditional fish and chips is not the only product of the sea on offer in Cornwall as there is plenty of other fish and shellfish to be had. If you have been to Padstow in recent years, you will know that celebrity chef, Rick Stein, seems to own at least half of the eating establishments in the town and fish is what he is most famous for. And yes, we did do the Rick Stein thing but in one of his pubs in a small village just outside “Padstein”. The menu was not dominated by fish dishes by any means but I went for the Goan fish curry and it was seriously good.
5. CHEESE. More moo juice products from those productive Cornish cows. Cornish Blue is a lovely, mild blue cheese – the chunk we bought did not last long. I even had a Cornish Blue pizza one evening at a pub, sitting outside overlooking a quiet, picturesque creek. If you like blue cheese but find Stilton a bit too strong, then Cornish Blue could be the thing for you. The other Cornish cheese we tried was Cornish Yarg. An intriguing name but not from the depths of ancient Cornish culture. Apparently, a couple called Gray re-discovered the 13th century recipe for this cheese and simply reversed their surname to create a convincingly Cornish-sounding name. The distinguishing feature of this cheese is the edible (but mouldy!) rind made by wrapping the cheese in nettle leaves. Inside, the cheese is a bit Cheddar-like towards the edges, being yellowy and smooth. Towards the middle, it becomes whiter and a tad crumbly – vaguely reminiscent of Wensleydale. At first, it tasted a bit soapy but, as I nibbled at it over the course of a few days, it just got better and better – creamy and delicious. The mouldy nettle rind is a bit of an acquired taste though!
So there you have it – how to sustain yourself when on holiday in Cornwall. OK, it may not be that healthy, but different rules apply when you’re on holiday, don’t they? To be honest, if you did eat all five of these in one day you may explode. I think the most I had was three in one day.
The choice for number five was not easy. Fudge (made with clotted cream of course) and cider are popular local fare and were possible contenders. However, not a morsel of fudge passed my lips in the whole two week holiday and I only got round to having one bottle of local cider. But what a belter that cider was – Healey’s Oak-Matured Special Edition Cornish Cyder. If the name sounds familiar, yes these cider makers are related to Donald Healey. You can visit their cider farm, not far from Donald’s birthplace Perranporth and they have a small collection of Austin-Healeys on show (I trust they don’t drink and drive!).
Finally, here are a few photos of Cornwall itself. If you are not familiar with the UK – look at a map. Cornwall is the bit sticking out at the bottom left, a bit like a leg and it’s the most popular holiday destination in the UK. Miles of beautiful coastline and loads of old towns and villages. The North coast and South coast have different characters. The North is rugged with rocky cliffs and endless bays with long sandy beaches. Facing the Atlantic, it has a surfing culture and surprisingly warm sea. The South has fewer beaches but numerous peaceful, wooded creeks and a bit of a subtropical feel thanks to the occasional palm tree. We cannot decide whether we prefer the North or South because they both offer something different. So, as we have just done on our most recent Cornish holiday, we usually have a week in each!